University of Nebraska-Lincoln Influencing Inflammation: Boosting Gut Health to Help Obese Adults

Photo credit: Craig Chandler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Inflammation is a major cause of health problems. When gut bacteria (microbiome) are out of balance, our protective intestinal barrier is disrupted, leading to an inflamed intestinal tract and the release of toxins into the body. This condition, called leaky gut syndrome, is more prominent in obese people, whose gut microbiomes may often be affected by high fat diets.

Drs. Hutkins and Walter and their collaborators set out to improve gut health by using a novel formulation of probiotics (healthy bacteria) and prebiotics (food for healthy bacteria). The team had previously fed a specific prebiotic called galactooligosaccharide (GOS) to human subjects. They then isolated bacteria enriched by the GOS, including one strain named Bifidobacterium IVS-1. The researchers knew that Bifidobacterium is important for maintaining a healthy microbiome and for protecting the intestinal barrier. They therefore wanted to introduce this organism into obese adults, who tend to have increased intestinal permeability, a condition that leads to inflammation.

They reasoned that if probiotics are introduced by themselves, the bacteria are at a competitive disadvantage because the gut is already populated by other organisms. To overcome this, the researchers formulated a synbiotic that combined the prebiotic food directly with the probiotic bacteria. By analogy, applying grass seed alone to a weedy lawn will not have much effect, but grass food plus seed could restore the lawn to a healthy state.

This novel approach has now been used in a human study to improve gut barrier function. Ultimately, this research may provide a basis for developing personalized nutrition strategies based on individuals’ microbiomes.

Intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are terrible diseases that negatively affect the quality of life for many Americans. We often hear from people desperate for answers. This motivates us to develop strategies to restore gut health.

– Dr. Robert Hutkins

Retaking The Field Volume 3 “Retaking the Field: Empowering Agricultural Sciences for Health” is a collaborative report from eleven universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report — the third in SoAR’s series — explores the success of research projects funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the flagship competitive grants program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). It is part of SoAR’s broader education and advocacy initiative to encourage additional federal support for food and agricultural research. View The Issue
Retaking the Field Volume 3: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research Click to download report

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